The Words Matter

History is made of words. For all the misinterpretations, misrepresentations, poor translation and deliberate obfuscation, words seem to mark history more than the rest.  Perhaps I’m biased. I fell in love with words when I was very young.

My oldest memories are of my mother reading to us. I really couldn’t say what the stories were. Whether it was the adventures of Mickey or The Tortoise and the Hare. It makes little difference now; I remember the comfort of my mothers voice. It was warm and secure and safe.

I also remember getting into trouble. If it were butter and honey when she was reading, it was cold iron and steel on these occasions.

I remember the thunder of my father after his long fuse had been spent. I remember the earnest kindness, that essential Dad-ness when I needed advice.

Words were so much more than their meaning. The sound of the word became tied to its definition.  The ebb and flow of a sentence reverberated in its’ meaning.

When I was an elementary school, a fellow student told me about a fantasy book. “The Lost Years of Merlin” by T.A. Barron. I devoured that book whole. I then preceded to devour the next four books in the series. I fell in love with a child version of the famed wizard, mixed intricately with ancient Irish folklore.

Then, as with so many, came the Harry Potter books. My mother read bits of those to us as well.

The tumultuous teenage years came and went, as did school and work and college. It was in these years that I read countless mythologies and fantastic stories. I learned history and the words that echoed through it. Even the ancients, who no longer had a reliable representation of their words, became immortalized in later renditions. Ancient Rome became inexorably linked with “Even you, Brutus?”. The lessons I remember came with words of gravity. Whether these words carried deadly gravity, or the lilt of natural beauty, the memory was so often the telling.

History is marked a thousand times by a million memorable and moving words, whether it was the hopeful optimism of the dream of a baptist minister, the quiet warning of a needle which would blind the world, or the terrible ferocity of an orator who would bring the world to its knees.

I love and am humbled by words. I love the ability to inspire and create. I love imagery and stories and the feelings that everyone uniquely ascribes to different words. I am humbled by their ability to do all these things as well, as well as the capacity to inspire hate and confusion. The ebb of language and the flow of stories informs so much of who we are personally and as a culture. The responsible use of language is a cornerstone that I feel sometimes can get lost in an era of limitless content. We are responsible for not only the stories that we tell about ourselves but for the readings of those stories. Words, like anything else, cheapen with an over-abundance of poor examples. It is not that we should speak less, but that we should be careful of our quality, and responsible for our outcomes, lest the story that remains when we are gone be something other than our own.

History is made of words and how we use them. Better make them good ones; in the telling and the reading.

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